George Zimmerman is in the news again — which means it’s once again time for major media outlets like CNN to continue to get the facts of the encounter between Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin wrong.
Zimmerman was slightly wounded earlier today in an incident that some are reporting may have been connected to road rage. The facts of the incident are still unclear, but it is known that Zimmerman was shot at and did not shoot anyone else. CNN reported the incident under this headline, “Police: George Zimmerman involved in Florida shooting.” Deeper in its story, CNN offered a brief recitation of the Trayvon Martin shooting. Amazingly, more than three years later, CNN still does not seem to know the basic facts of the story:
In fact, Zimmerman was never “instructed” not to get out of his SUV and he did not “disregard” any such instructions. As Jonathan Capehart has explained, 911 dispatchers are trained not to give people instructions about what to do because it could make them liable if something goes wrong. What the dispatcher told Zimmerman after asking if he was following Martin was simply, “we don’t need you to do that.”
As for staying in his SUV, Zimmerman had already exited his vehicle when the dispatcher made this statement. As the audio transcript of the non-emergency call makes clear, Zimmerman stepped out of his car several seconds before the dispatcher asked if he was following Martin. After pointing this out to the authors of the CNN article, I received a response from one of the authors:
@verumserum The background in the story is based on previous CNN reporting. It has been tweaked to clarify, Thanks for the note.
— Mariano Castillo (@marianoCNN) May 11, 2015
The story has been tweaked. Here is the revised version:
Unfortunately, this revised version is still wrong. CNN now implies that Zimmerman and the dispatcher had a conversation about following Martin in which Zimmerman replied he was “trying to find out where he went.” Zimmerman may have offered that explanation at some later point but it was not part of his non-emergency police call. In fact, Zimmerman’s response to the dispatcher’s statement (“we don’t need you to do that”) was simply “OK.” Given Zimmerman’s response, it’s not clear on what basis CNN is claiming he “ignored the dispatcher’s advice.”
CNN’s revised version is better in that it classifies the dispatcher’s statement more accurately as “advice” and points out that Zimmerman claimed Martin was the person who initiated the fight. This is significant since following someone through your neighborhood is not a crime. Throwing a punch is.
Still, three years after the incident that was the subject of months of biased, unreliable reporting, CNN shouldn’t need two tries to come up with an improved but still factually suspect version of events.